Byron's Babbles

The Implications of What We Call “Level 2” Relationships at Work

The following is an excerpt from Humble Leadership

The Implications of What We Call “Level 2” Relationships at Work

By Ed and Peter Schein

Organizations today are doing all kinds of experiments in how work is defined and are showing great flexibility in how roles and authority are allocated. What we see in these experiments is that they encourage relationships that are more personal. Bosses, direct reports, team members, and resources from other teams are making it a point to get to know each other at a more personal level, fostering more openness and, in time, more trust and the psychological safety to speak up and be heard.

In a Level 2 relationship, I convey that “I see you.” This is not necessarily “I like you” or “I want to be your friend,” or “Let’s get our families together,” but I let you know through my words, demeanor, and body language that I am aware of your total presence, that in this relationship we are working together and are dependent on each other, are trying to trust each other, and should each try to see the other as more than a fellow employee, or associate, or team member, but as a whole person. By conveying that “I see you”, we are also conveying that we will not allow “professional distance” to separate us; we are forming a personal-working bond that will not tolerate obfuscation or deception. Seeing each other as whole persons is primarily a choice that we can make. We already know how to be personal in our social and private lives. Humble Leadership involves making that conscious choice in our work lives.

Six Principles of Humble Leadership

  1. Humble Leadership builds on Level 2 personal relationships that depend on and foster openness and trust.
  2. If Level 2 relationships do not already exist in the workgroup, the emergent humble leader’s first job is to develop trust and openness in the workgroup.
  3. In a Level 2 workgroup Humble Leadership emerges by enabling whoever has pertinent information or expertise to speak up and improve whatever the group is seeking to accomplish.
  4. The process of creating and maintaining Level 2 relationships requires a learning mindset, cooperative attitudes, and skills in interpersonal and group dynamics.
  5. An effective group dealing with complex tasks in a volatile environment will need to evolve such mindsets, attitudes, and skills in all of its members.
  6. Therefore, Humble Leadership is as much a group phenomenon as an individual behavior.

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About Authors

Edgar H. Schein is Professor Emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational studies, organizational culture and leadership, process consulting, career development. Ed’s contributions to the practice of O.D. date back to the early 1960s and continue with the recent publication of Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein, co-founder of OCLI.org who brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley.

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